A Strong Town...

  1. 1. Must be near-term financially solvent.

Can your town meet its near-term financial obligations? Is your town deferring needed maintenance, bypassing key investments or dramatically raising revenue in order to balance its budget? Is your town seeking new growth as a way to pay for current financial imbalances?

  1. 2. Must have the tax base and resources to cover long-term financial commitments.

Have the public investments that have been made in your town's infrastructure resulted in private-sector investments that can financially sustain the maintenance of that infrastructure? Is your town reliant on government transfer payments or extreme amounts of debt to pay for maintenance of basic infrastructure systems? Does your town have a capital improvements plan that accounts for the maintenance and replacement of all infrastructure systems?

by Charles Marohn, P.E., A.S.C.E.

Today, there are four primary mechanisms that have fueled the current growth pattern within our towns and neighborhoods. None of these are financially sustainable.

1. Transfer payments between governments.

Nearly every city in America is reliant, to one degree or another, on intergovernmental subsidies to finance infrastructure. Whether the money comes through an established program, an earmark or a block grant, the result is the same: a land use pattern that does not reflect local economic realities. Local values and priorities are distorted when there is little pressure to generate a return on public infrastructure investments. The result: inefficient growth patterns that cannot be financially sustained.

At the same time our infrastructure maintenance liabilities are ballooning, our federal and state legislatures are struggling to reconcile huge budget shortfalls. Even if it were good policy, the reality is that we do not have the ability to build Strong Towns with intergovernmental transfer payments as they are currently designed.

"As planners or engineers, as politicians or advocates, we want to believe there is a certain amount of control we can exercise, that our efforts and dedication constitute the determining factor in our success or failure. The entire you need to spend money to make money meme set me off earlier this year (and continues to make my blood boil) because of the sheer arrogance of the notion. I'm a brilliant professional who knows best so I'm going to spend your money and, if it doesn't work out, I'm just going to blame the failure on your inadequacy or some other factor outside of my control. After all, you need to spend money to make money, sucker, and I did my part.

What would a different approach look like, one that didn't rely so much on either sheer genius (real or imagined) or on dumb luck? It just so happens that the traditional development pattern is such an approach and, as you will see, it has the breathtaking genius always found in a natural ecosystem that has evolved over thousands and thousands of years."


- Charles Marohn, The Fool Proof City

'I am confident that, at some point in my professional career as an engineer and a planner working for and advising local governments on capital improvement projects, I used the phrase, "it takes money to make money." This is an idiom that is quite American and it is particularly poignant as we move through the Desperation Phase of the Suburban Experiment. 

The idea here is that one needs to put something at risk if one is going to experience a gain. A related idiom is, "nothing risked, nothing gained." And clearly we can see that, in the Ponzi Scheme of Growth we find ourselves in, those local governments that do nothing to generate growth are generally seen as falling behind (in the near term).

I have about a dozen directions I want to take this, but for today I'm just going to focus on this one line of thinking: Why do we seem to culturally believe this is true? What makes a broad mass of people generally be supportive of speculative public projects like new highways, stadiums, reconditioning the downtown or building an "entertainment district", sold to the public as "growth"?'

- Charles Marohn,  - It takes money to make money?

by Charles Marohn, Strong Towns Blog:

`After graduating from college with a civil engineering degree, I found myself working in my home town for a local engineering firm doing mostly municipal engineering (roads, sewer pipe, water pipe, stormwater). A fair percentage of my time was spent convincing people that, when it came to their road, I knew more than they did.

When people would tell me that they did not want a wider street, I would tell them that they had to have it for safety reasons.

When they answered that a wider street would make people drive faster and that would be seem to be less safe, especially in front of their house where their kids were playing, I would confidently tell them that the wider road was more safe, especially when combined with the other safety enhancements the standards called for.

For the United States to be a prosperous country, it must have strong cities, towns and neighborhoods. Enduring prosperity for our communities cannot be artificially created from the outside but must be built from within, incrementally over time. An America in transition must focus on developing strong, local communities, places where humanity’s creativity, compassion and spirit of collaboration can flourish.

As advocates for a strong America, we know the following to be true.

  • Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long term prosperity.

  • Land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained.

  • A transportation system is a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.

  • Job creation and economic growth are the results of a healthy local economy, not substitutes for one.

  • Local government is a platform for citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.

  • Strong Towns are made of strong citizens.

We seek an America where our local communities are designed to grow stronger in the face of adversity, to be the solid foundation on which our shared prosperity is preserved.

There are no universal answers to the complex problems America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods face. At Strong Towns, we seek to discover rational ways to respond to our challenges using trial and error, building incrementally on small successes while learning early from failures when the risks are still low. This is the time-tested approach that all complex systems use to adapt and thrive. It is the way we will build a nation of strong towns.


- Charles Marohn, Strong Towns Mission Statement